Fears claims about ex-judge will taint GSOC probe

A row has erupted over claims a former member of the judiciary appointed to lead an inquiry into the Garda ombudsman bugging scandal is a “Fine Gael judge”.

The Coalition has appointed former High Court judge John Cooke to look into claims that there were potential security breaches last year at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Mr Cooke has eight weeks to review claims and counter-claims about the bugging scandal and report back to the justice minister, before the report is published.

Fine Gael party chairman Charlie Flanagan has lodged a complaint over comments by two Independent TDs in the Dáil which he argues could taint the probe. In a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, Mr Flanagan yesterday wrote: “I wish to refer to remarks made by Opposition Deputy John Halligan during Leaders’ Questions today wherein he alleged political partisanship on the part of Mr Justice John Cooke in his appointment to chair the independent enquiry into events at the offices of GSOC.

“These remarks if not withdrawn will have the effect of tainting and undermining the inquiry. I request that as Ceann Comhairle you investigate as appropriate.”

Earlier, Mr Flanagan told the Dáil that Independent TD Finian McGrath had also made remarks which would “cast a slur on a member of the judiciary”.

Mr McGrath confirmed he had said “blue shirt” in relation to the judge. He later stated that Judge Cooke had been appointed to the European Court of judges in 1996 by a previous Fine Gael-Labour government.

Mr Halligan confirmed he had said Mr Cooke was appointed by a coalition government in 1996. But he added: “I’m not casting aspersions. But people won’t accept a judge [alone], particularly a political appointee.”

The matter has now been referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Mr Cooke was appointed a member of the then Court of First Instance of the European Communities in 1996.

Meanwhile, Independent TDs will today propose a bill to ensure future appointments of judges are taken out of the Government’s hands and decided by an independent panel.

Launching the bill yesterday,Independent TD Shane Ross said: “Recent events at GSOC have proved the need to remove the appointment of the Garda commissioner, top gardaí, and judges from ministerial and government control.”

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